Should Health Care Providers Be Forced to Apologise After Things Go Wrong?


The issue of apologising to patients harmed by adverse events has been a subject of interest and debate within medicine, politics, and the law since the early 1980s. Although apology serves several important social roles, including recognising the victims of harm, providing an opportunity for redress, and repairing relationships, compelled apologies ring hollow and ultimately undermine these goals. Apologies that stem from external authorities’ edicts rather than an offender’s own self-criticism and moral reflection are inauthentic and contribute to a “moral flabbiness” that stunts the moral development of both individual providers and the medical profession. Following a discussion of a recent case from New Zealand in which a midwife was required to apologise not only to the parents but also to the baby, it is argued that rather than requiring health care providers to apologise, authorities should instead train, foster, and support the capacity of providers to apologise voluntarily.

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Leigh E. Rich is the editor in chief of the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry but was not involved in the review or the acceptance of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Stuart McLennan.

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McLennan, S., Walker, S. & Rich, L.E. Should Health Care Providers Be Forced to Apologise After Things Go Wrong?. Bioethical Inquiry 11, 431–435 (2014).

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  • Medical error
  • Apology
  • Agency
  • Empathy
  • Patient advocacy